Lecture: Dr. Divna Manolova – Redefining Exactness in Late Byzantine Astronomy

The Research Training Group 1876 "Early Concepts of Man and Nature" and the ScienceCampus Mainz "Byzantium between Orient and Occident" invite to a lecture by Dr. Divna Manolova (University of Edinburgh).

Tuesday, 12.07.2016, 6:00 p.m.
Venue: Georg Forster-Gebäude (Jakob-Welder-Weg 12), Raum 02-521


According to his own testimony, the Byzantine historian, hagiographer, and astronomer Nikephoros Gregoras (d. ca. 1360) presented to emperor Andronikos II a proposal for a calendar correction related to the calculation of the date of Easter. The account of the event, as well as Gregoras's arguments in favour of a reform, are preserved both in his Roman History and as a letter addressed either to Demetrios Kabasilas or to Joseph Rhakendytes. According to Gregoras, despite having understood and accepted his arguments, the emperor decided against the implementation of the reform in order to avoid confusion and disagreement.

Gregoras's proposal for calendar correction and his general preoccupation with astronomy is representative of the revival of the study and practice of higher mathematical sciences in Byzantium during the early Palaiologan period after almost a century of interruption. The study of Ptolemaic astronomy, in particular, was consciously reintroduced and publicized by several generations of scholars. Among the most prominent proponents of the Ptolemaic 'project' was the statesman, philosopher, and Gregoras's mentor Theodore Metochites (d. 1332).

The importance of calculating the date of Easter for the liturgical needs of a medieval Christian society, such as the Byzantine one, is self-evident. Correspondingly, the need for relevant mathematical expertise and the interest in the subject on behalf of the late Byzantine scholars comes as unsurprising. Gregoras's discussion concerning the correction of the date of Easter and his reform proposal, however, present an example of the intersection of late Byzantine astronomical and liturgical conceptions of time and their socio-political implications. Thus, based on Gregoras's discourse, the present contribution problematizes the relationship between time as a mathematical category, subject to accurate or inaccurate reckoning on behalf of the astronomers, on the one hand, and sacred time as a liturgical category, on the other, and seeks to explain why the late Byzantine scholars were engaged in improving the parameters of the computus, despite the lack of perspective for the implementation of the corrections they proposed.

Short bio:

Divna Manolova is currently an Academic Network Facilitator in the frame of the Leverhulme project on "Emotions from Antiquity to Byzantium" at the University of Edinburgh. She has recently defended her doctoral dissertation entitled Discourses of Science and Philosophy in the Letters of Nikephoros Gregoras at the Department of Medieval Studies at Central European University (Budapest). During her doctoral studies, she was a junior fellow at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (Washington, DC) and Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (Istanbul), as well as a visiting research fellow at the Department of Classics of Brown University. Her research focuses on late medieval intellectual culture (notably, on the history of mathematical sciences and philosophy) and in particular on the scholarly production in Palaiologan Byzantium.

The lecture is part of the workshop "Thinking about Sacred Time in Medieval Societies of the Middle East". Further information about the workshop can be found here.